The NHL moving to ESPN and ABC; ESPN+ to stream out-of-market local games

New Jersey Devils

On Wednesday, big sports and cable/streaming news broke: the National Hockey League (NHL) and ESPN reached an agreement for the sports network to be the main home for pro hockey in the United States. The deal’s good for the next seven years (starting with the 2021-2022 season this fall), and will see Disney (ESPN’s owner) pay the NHL $400 million annually. That’s up from the $1.9 billion for 10 years that the NHL’s previous home, NBC, paid in 2011.

The NHL’s also looking for a secondary partner to also air games; the main choices for that include Fox, CBS, and their old partner NBC. (Update: the secondary NHL partner is Turner Sports, via TNT. The full schedule of games airing on TNT is available here.)

Details

The main details of this deal (plus an update with the 2021-22 ESPN/ESPN+/ABC game schedules):

  • ABC/ESPN will air four Stanley Cup Finals, plus half of the playoffs.
  • ABC or ESPN will air at least 25 regular season games. For the 2021-22 season, ESPN will have 18 exclusive games. ABC will air 10 regular season games, including the Thanksgiving Showdown (airing on Black Friday, between the Blues and the Blackhawks), plus the 2022 All-Star Game on February 5. The other ABC games will air on Saturday nights, starting in late February (after the Winter Olympics)… I assume calling it “Hockey Night in America” isn’t an option?
  • 75 games will exclusively stream on ESPN+ and Hulu. Hulu also has access to ESPN+ content, for those wanting to use one app for both services.
  • Coverage for the 2021-22 season kicks off with a doubleheader on October 12 (the Penguins/Lightning at 7:30 PM ET, followed by the Kraken/Golden Knights at 10 PM ET). The games will be on ESPN, and simulcast on ESPN+.
  • The out-of-market streaming service NHL.TV will cease to exist, with its functions folded into ESPN+. Starting this fall, all 1,000+ locally broadcast games will be available to ESPN+ subscribers, save local team games (which’ll be blacked out).
  • Cable’s NHL Center Ice out-of-market service will still exist. As far as I can tell, this also doesn’t affect the similar package offered in Canada by Rogers, NHL Live.
  • There’s also international rights covering Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of Europe.

What’s in it for both parties

ESPN Sportscenter

Photo by West Point (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

For Disney/ESPN

While Disney’s been reeling from the pandemic, their streaming services are successful. Disney+ has just reached 100 million subscribers, making it one of the biggest streaming services in the US. Hulu and ESPN+ also aren’t doing badly (at 39 million and 12 million subscribers respectively).

A major sport like hockey calling ESPN and ESPN+ home might help shore up interest in subscribing to ESPN+, either by itself or as part of the Disney+ bundle. It also gives ESPN claim to all four major North American sports, alongside their baseball, football, and basketball coverage.

For the NHL

As mentioned above, the NHL will earn more money from this deal than their old NBC one. Also helping: ESPN has a higher profile than NBC (or the soon-to-shutter NBCSN), which should help promote the sport in the US.

The more robust streaming service options will also help, though ESPN+ already offers a selection of locally broadcast hockey games every night during the regular season.

Along with that, ESPN’s had some history of airing NHL games. It was the main cable home for hockey in the US from 1979 to 1982, 1985 to 1988, and 1992 to 2004. ESPN even announced plans to dust off their old NHL coverage theme song (currently used for “In the Crease,” a hockey analysis show airing on ESPN+):

Nice, if not as catchy as the original “Hockey Night in Canada” theme song (now owned by TSN, a Canadian sports network and Canada’s counterpart to ESPN).

My observations

I view the switch to ESPN as a good thing for the NHL. Of particular interest is that ESPN+ will become the main home for out-of-market locally broadcast games. The fact it’s a lot cheaper than the old NHL.TV package is a plus: ESPN+ costs $6 a month, or $60/year; as part of the Disney+ package, $14/month will also get Disney+ and Hulu.

I already subscribe to ESPN+, which handles the existing NHL games pretty well. The fact I’ll be able to now watch all locally-broadcast Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, or New Jersey Devils games adds to what already was a pretty good deal.

On the downsides, nationally covered games (on ESPN-proper or NHL Network) will still need cable, or a streaming option like Sling TV or YouTube TV. I also fear that they’ll still insist on airing part of the Stanley Cup Finals only on ESPN, just as NBC split the finals between NBC and NBCSN.

The New York Times notes there’ll be fewer regular season games airing nationally on TV; this season, out of 100 games, 16 are on NBC, while 84 are on NBCSN. Under the new deal, ABC/ESPN also get 100 nationally broadcast games, but 25 of those will be on ABC/ESPN, while the other 75 are through ESPN+ and Hulu. This might be a good or bad thing depending on how one looks at it. However, given the shift to streaming that’ll likely continue over this decade, I don’t think it’ll be a negative for the NHL.

Overall, I’m optimistic for the new deal, though I’m wondering who the NHL will get as a secondary partner. Hopefully not Fox… besides Fox being, well, Fox, I also recall the last time they had the NHL rights, back in the 1990s. Anyone remember the glowing puck?

“Game Action” by rubyswoon is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

(Updated 9/17/21)

32 thoughts on “The NHL moving to ESPN and ABC; ESPN+ to stream out-of-market local games”

  1. For those of us still using directv or other services like this the change will SUCK!!!!! Now I have to pay for even more services just to watch hockey, I’ve been paying out the nose for Center Ice just to get more games, now I have to get ESPN+? When will it end???

    1. Well, ESPN+ basically replicates the Center Ice package (all out of market games), so if you’re paying for one, you don’t need the other. Though you’ll still need cable/satellite (or a cable TV replacement streaming service like YouTube TV/Hulu Live/Fubo TV) for home market coverage.

    1. As I wrote above, NHL.TV will cease to exist in the US; checking its site, they’re already redirecting users to sign up with ESPN+. For Canadian customers, NHL Live will stay unchanged (still be offered by Canadian cable/media giant Rogers).

    1. Playoff games will be shown on ESPN/ABC and TNT/TBS (in alternating years).

      As I said above, Center Ice will still exist, but in the US it’s made redundant with the ESPN+ deal.

      1. Not redundant at all! ESPEN+ will never show near as many games as NHL.TV, plus replaying a game or going into the library to watch high lights and more. This Freaking sucks, I love staying up late and choosing which game to watch vs having to watch what ever teams they choose and don’t get me started on that being from a smaller market, we will almost never get nation coverage and it’ll be the same 6 or 7 teams all year with a couple “real” out of market games.

        This is BS

        1. yep the game will never be the same. the nhl sold out and we the consumers will get the shaft. worst thing ever. canada still gets nhl/tv and we here in the the states get crap… we will be lucky to get more than 3 or so games on espn each day. what a fricken joke.

      2. So I live in Memphis Tn but my favorite team is the Detroit Red Wings. With the Center Ice Beta feed on Xfinity I could see every game from the Detroit announcers. I already have ESPN+ for UFC for the hubby. After reading your article does that mean ESPN+ will allow me to choose what feed I want and therefore not need to purchase Center Ice anymore ? Just want to make sure. Thanks

      3. I would like to watch all the NY Islanders games. If I purchase the ESPN+ app on my Samsung TV for $5.99 per month, will I receive all Isles games (not including the games on national tv) or do I still have to purchase the NHL Center Ice package? Also, MLB.tv lets you purchase 1 team for the season. Is this possible for the NHL?

        1. As long as the Islanders aren’t in your local TV market (i.e. you don’t live in or near the New York City area), you should be able to get the Islanders’ non-nationally televised games through ESPN+.

          IIRC the old NHL.TV package allowed buying just one team. I don’t know if that’ll carry over to ESPN+ (given the already low price point, I doubt it?).

      4. So if one were to dump Center Ice for ESPN+, they would get all the Center Ice games, plus a bunch of other content (soccer, college football, etc) and save money. Is this correct? if so, that’s a pretty sweet deal. Thanks!

        1. NHL TV: Every game for every team (all season and playoffs) available for viewing, whenever you want (with blackout delays for your home team). That’s around 2,600 games.

          ESPN+: 100 games, about 1/30 the number available on NHL TV, most of which are no interest if your preference is watching your favorite team(s). Based on the info on ESPN’s website, it’s not even clear you can watch any of the 100 games after they’re played.

          For hockey fans who were used to watching every game of their favorite team, this blows! There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig, like saying it’s cheaper than NHL TV. It should be if it’s only providing 1/30 the number of games.

          1. Totally agree Mike. I was just looking for a preseason game on cable and I stumbled upon an updgrade. It’s the NHL Center Ice package through my cable company. $60 from Oct 13 thru end of December. In 2022 you can pay ~$30 from remainder of season. I purchased the 2021 portion just to see if it adds more games. We’ll see.

        2. Sorry, but I’m still a bit confused. We’ve had NHL Center Ice for many years, first through DirecTV and then through subscribing directly to the NHL Center Ice on Roku and Hulu Live after canceling DirecTV. We want to be able to watch all the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks games. So, what do we do to accomplish that?

          1. Assuming you don’t have cable and don’t live in the Avalanche’s or Blackhawks’ TV markets, ESPN+ is supposed to carry all out-of-market locally televised games, plus a handful of exclusive-nationally games (though as others above noted, ESPN’s listed schedule currently looks confusing). You’d also need a live cable replacement streaming service (like YouTube TV, Sling TV or Hulu Live) that carries any of their nationally covered games on ESPN proper and TNT. (ABC is carried on some of these if you don’t have an antenna.)

            If you live within their markets, ESPN+ for those teams will be blacked out; you’ll need a live streaming service that carries the teams’ regional sports networks. In Chicago, NBC Sports Chicago is on most of the major ones; in Colorado, Altitude seems to only be available on a single pricey service (DirecTV Stream).

            This site tries to break things down by team (and whether you’re in-market or out-of-market):
            https://thestreamable.com/sports/nhl/chicago-blackhawks

            Hope this helps… admit they certainly made things confusing.

        3. I’m a die hard Colorado Avalanche fan. I have ordered Center ice every year for the past few years and love the broadcast team they show on Center ice on the dedicated Avalanche channel. Would I get all of the avalanche games on espn through my Xfinity box on their own dedicated Avalanche channel, would I be able to DVR the games, and would it be the same announcers/commentary between periods that they have had in the past?

        4. Previously when you purchased Center Ice on Direct Tv, I could stream all games on my Iphone/Ipad on NhlTV without an extra charge? Do I now have to pay the ESPN+ Fee on top of the Center Ice charge?

        5. Update: it looks like ESPN waited until today (for some reason) to put up their full game schedule. It does look like ESPN+ will have out-of-market locally-broadcast games, as promised. (Also a few CBC “Hockey Night in Canada” telecasts, going by “national broadcast” listed on a few Canadian teams’ games?)

        6. espn sucks for the nhl games. we will have no where near waht we had for nhl/tv. the nhl has sold out. we will never get ever game like before. we will be lucky to get more than 3 games a day on espn+. you will not be able to watch every game of your favorite team. WORST DEAL EVER FOR THE SPORT OF HOCKEY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *